Hadji Murat Essay

This essay has a total of 1753 words and 7 pages.

Hadji Murat

Hadji Murat, Tolstoy's second book with the Caucasus as its setting can be considered a
work of historical fiction that is a beautiful tale of resistance, and a window into not
only the Caucasian War of the mid-nineteenth century, but also the culture of the Russian
Empire during this period. As a work of fiction the reader must be wary of depictions of
actual persons such as Tsar Nicholas I, whom Tolstoy was not enamored with, to say the
least, but many insights about the period and its people can be gleaned from the story.
The novel is one of great contrasts between Chechens and Russians and also of what life
was like during this time.

Tolstoy's emphasizes deeply with the Chechen people as he details their suffering at the
hands of the Russians. Through Hadji Murat we get to know the people of the Caucasus and
their peaceful existence, followed by the depiction of a brutal Russian raid on a Chechen
village. The Russians burn the food reserves of the town, kill livestock, and raze many of
the buildings as well. The structures that are not completely destroyed are defiled by the
Russian troops, including the village's mosque. Even the well is fouled. The village
chosen by the Russians was the same that gave hospitality to Hadji Murat at the beginning
of the novel. Sado, the man who offered his home to Hadji Murat returns to find it
destroyed and his son dead, bayoneted in the back by the Russians. The outrage that
Tolstoy must have felt in writing this is palpable, played out in the unimaginable hatred
that the Chechen villagers feel towards the Russians. To Tolstoy, this feeling of hatred
towards the Russians was just as natural a feeling a feeling as the feeling of
self-preservation (Tolstoy p85). Like the thistle in the opening of the novel these people
would not submit until destroyed. These villagers are left with task of rebuilding and
then choosing to continue to resist and have the same thing occur again, or to submit to
the destroyers and defilers of their home. They decide to ask Shamil for help, revealing
one of Tolstoy's messages in Hadji Murat; that oppression and violence will only breed
more dissent.

The brutal attacks by Russian soldiers can also be likened to Nicholas I's suppression of
dissent in the rest of the Russian empire, particularly political dissent. When he was
deciding on the public punishment of a Pole who had attacked his academy professor the
Tsar stated that; "It'll be good for them. I'll stamp out this spirit of revolution, I'll
tear it out by the roots… (Tolstoy p76)." The crime had nothing to do with politics, but
the Tsar saw it as an opportunity to control his subjects through fear. This was the
policy of the Russian General Tsitsianov, whose brutal policy of ruling the Caucasus
through fear was a major cause in the mountaineers' rebellion.

The protagonist of the novel, Hadji Murat, became caught between the two despotic leaders
Nicholas I, and Shamil. Murat is eventually destroyed because of this. In Hadji Murat
Tolstoy depicts the two despots as sharing some similar characteristics.

Tsar Nicholas I is depicted in a most unfavorable manner. He delights in causing terror to
those around him, in one case an army officer and his female companion at a masquerade
(Tolstoy p71). In the same scene Nicholas is portrayed as a lecherous man, having liaisons
with various women (Tolstoy pp70-71). This portrayal of the Tsar is problematic as he is
considered by historians to have been a family man and devoted to his wife, with whom
sexual intercourse was impossible due to her health problems (Moss p357). Tolstoy
obviously finds this unacceptable. Nicholas is stupid and egotistical as well, taking
credit for the successes of the raids on Chechen villages when he had advocated a
completely different policy. Tolstoy also accuses Tsar Nicholas I as not being a serious
Christian when he depicts him saying his prayers "without attaching any significance to
the words he was saying (Tolstoy p72)." This is unlikely as historians like Moss argue
that Tsar Nicholas was actually a dedicated Christian whose "religious convictions and
high sense of duty, not any love of his work, that kept him laboring at the increasingly
difficult job of running his empire (Moss p375)."

Tolstoy's Shamil, however, strikes a much more impressive image than the Tsar; "The imam
wore nothing shiny, no gold or silver whatsoever, and his tall, erect, powerful figure
created that very impression of greatness that he wished and knew how to create among the
people (Tolstoy p90)." Having taken Hadji Murat's family hostage as a punishment for
disloyalty, Shamil calmly considers alternative tortures for them, and how best he may
trap and murder their father as calmly as Tsar Nicholas contemplates sentencing a man to
run a gauntlet of "a thousand men, twelve times (Tolstoy pp76-77)." While the visual
images of the two men differ, they share some in common between their personalities.

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